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Broward Police Brutality: Protest Zones & Political Expression in the City

Shooting at peaceful protesters Pt 314. The victim: a middle aged woman lawyer holding a protest sign.

Ashley Fantz writes a description of the event (and the videotape of the policemen laughing about the incident). Ironically Broward attorney Elizabeth Ritter wasn’t there to protest, merely to complain about the fact that on that day police had turned the city into a “police state.” I bet Castro would have approved.
Once again, we have an outrageous event made public because of the random chance that videocameras were there to film incriminating evidence. Important to remember is location of the protest. Protesters by definition want to create a scene in the most public place possible. When I was caught in the middle of protests in Albania, the population density made it easy for a simple march down the main street to mobilize the city. In Tianamann square, while I don’t approve of what happened in 1989, I understand the government’s concern about a protest in the square disrupting the city. Government buildings were nearby, and it was a gigantic public square which could easily have strategic importance. You need only 20,000 ardent protesters there to bring the city to a standstill.

But American cities do not squares (except perhaps in downtown, and mainly on the East Coast). In Houston, most of the interesting spaces are privately-owned, so a protest would definitely be illegal trespassing. And there really isn’t anywhere you can stage a protest to attract a lot of attention (except outside City Hall or near a TV network).

Really, if I were a semi-anarchic protester, the venue I’d choose would be the freeways. Twenty or fifty people could stall on the freeways (perhaps even in adjacent lanes), and the city would come apart. Note that I’m not advocating this. But the freeway seems to be the last remaining place where the entire community of Houstonians find themselves at. Up until now very few have tried unfurling signs on highway overpasses or paying for billboard advertising.

Maybe the solution is for political groups like moveon.org to purchase signspace where groups can promote political messages. By owning the private space, they could wield complete control over it (and vary the message as often as they wish). Would it clutter up people’s attention while they drive to work? Perhaps. Would it lead to lots of simplistic political bumper sticker type messages? Probably. But the alternative: (the active discouragement of civilized political expression in public) only means that when people resort to political expressions, the methods and the outcomes are  nastier.

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